We must be approaching Halloween because after last week’s news stories about the discovery of an (almost) herbivorous spider, reported in Current Biology, a new species of spider has now woven its way into the headlines. In their PLoS ONE article published today, Matjaž Kuntner of the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Slovenia, and Jonathan Coddington at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, describe a new, giant species of Nephila (golden orb weaver spider). This study is the source of this week’s PLoS ONE featured image.
The new species was named Nephila komaci by the authors after Kuntner’s best friend Andrej Komac, who died in an accident at the time of the discoveries. Nephila spiders are known to be the largest web-weaving spiders and spin orb webs, which can be over 1 m in diameter (a photograph showing the web of Nephila inaurata is available via the Smithsonian press release).
The researchers compared N. komaci to others in the family Nephilidae and found that females of the new species are the largest known orb-weaving spiders, although in a case of extreme sexual size dimorphism (SSD), only the females are giants: their bodies measure just under 4 cm, with a leg span of 10-12 cm, while the males are much smaller. Although the authors do not have a photo of a complete specimen of N. komaci, the featured image shows two examples of SSD in other species: part A (left) shows, “Moderate SSD – male resting on female (Herennia multipuncta),” and part B shows, “Extreme SSD – male walking over female (Nephila pilipes).”
“It was surprising to find a giant female Nephila from South Africa in the collection of the Plant Protection Research Institute in Pretoria, South Africa, that did not match any described species,” said Kuntner, who first examined the specimen in 2000. After several unsuccessful expeditions to South Africa to find living specimens, a male and two females were discovered a few years ago in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa, and the researchers determined that the specimens did constitute a valid new species rather than being hybrids of an existing species.
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